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Pep Talk from Sarah Gailey

photo of Sarah Gailey

The only thing harder than writing is not writing.

Writing is hard – we must acknowledge that. Writing requires us to card the wool of the mind, to take experiences and memories and sort them into letters so other people might think, feel, understand. One must take an uncategorizable, inexplicable, throbbing knot of perception and emotion and experience and somehow render it legible to outsiders. I tasted a fig once and knew that no one else in the world, anywhere, ever, would taste the same fig as me – once I’d eaten it, there was nothing to be shared. I might write about the fig: I’d call the flavor green and sweet and crushing, I’d explain how every fig is an inside-out flower, I’d pick my way through a deep and fervent and frankly graphic description of the textures involved. But if I did that, I’d know while I was choosing those words that they could never make the reader understand precisely how the fig felt on my tongue.

Writing is impossible. The alphabet I use to write only has twenty-six letters in it. No matter how many ways I rearrange those letters, I don’t think they can possibly be enough to encapsulate the way it feels to be alive.

Maybe it’s hopeless.

But oh, god, at least it isn’t not writing.

Not writing is a hellish expanse of time spent wandering the house, staring at packed dirt in the yard, dusting the tops of doorframes and rearranging the kitchen cupboards. Not writing is a commute: a damp bench on a train platform, dreading the hot breath that will rush out of the tunnel ahead of the train, wondering if there will be a less-damp seat available once it arrives. If writing is a puzzle that can never quite be solved, then not writing is a puzzle in a box that can never be opened – what’s the point of it? It stales on the shelf.

The worst part of not writing is that writing always lingers at the edges of it. There’s a prickle on the back of my neck when I’m not writing, an unanswered-message feeling. Because the story is waiting. It’s perched in the future somewhere and it wants to be real and I am the only one preventing that from happening. And yes, I might tell that patient expectant story, writing is hard. How, I might ask, does one begin to explain the transgressive thrill of biting through the flesh of the fig?

But then again, I am the only one who ate that fig. I am the only one who can write about what it was like to eat that fig. And because I am the only one who can write that description, the joy of trying to figure out how to write it belongs only to me. It’s mine to claim, that toil, that triumph – and what do I have to do to claim it? I have to turn away from the awful clinging hours of not writing.

I can do that, so the story can become what it’s meant to be. It’s not so hard to write.

Not compared to the alternative.

Sarah Gailey

(Need another boost? View our entire pep talk archive.)

Sarah Gailey is a Hugo Award Winning and Bestselling author of speculative fiction, short stories, and essays.

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